Oct 26 2021

From Small Acorns Grow Mighty Oaks……

Below is a story very kindly provided by one of our fantastic volunteer speakers, Gerald Price.

I think it demonstrates so perfectly how all of our actions and everything we do can have consequences and outcomes we could never foresee or imagine. Never underestimate the power of all the fabulous work you are doing to support us every day and the positive ripple effect on those around us and the difference you can make……and how much we appreciate it.


A Story


This story is set back in  November 1964.  It is a damp misty evening, as it often is on the edge of Dartmoor, as we are in the hall of a West Devon village.  The hall is packed because there is to be an illustrated talk by a Naturalist who had grown up in one of the big houses near to the village.  Many weren’t sure what a naturalist was. Is it someone who doesn’t wear clothes, wondered one?  Word had got about that the speaker had a good camera and had mastered the art of the new-fangled 35mm slide technology so one way or the other it was likely to be an interesting evening!

Our man started his talk with a slide of a mammal. He asked the audience if anyone knew what it was. After a noticeable pause, an elderly gent shouted out, “it’s an otter mi dear”.  Our speaker then pointed out that the reason why most did not recognise it was that otters were almost extinct in Devon rivers.   “You all know about the River Plym that flows a milky white all the way into Plymouth Sound because of the English China Clay works on the edge of the Moor.”, he said. River water was pressurised and fired at the decomposing granite, from whence china clay comes, the water was then pumped into settling chambers and the runoff returned to the river.   The Company claimed that their process was entirely natural; it is just that they were speeding it up somewhat!  The problem, our speaker explained was that the milky suspension in the river water gets into aquatic gills and clogs them.  Fish then suffocate.  And the otters starve. “The, let me tell you about the River Meavy to the west of the Plym” , our speaker went on. “In the drought year 1959 Plymouth City Water Works were given permission to cut the flow from the Burrator Reservoir near  its source on Dartmoor.   They have now got in the habit of doing this each summer.  This is bad news for the fish.  Whilst the smaller fish can find isolated pools there is insufficient depth for the larger fish.”  “And whilst talking about the rivers”, he went on  “let me tell you about the oaks that grow along the valleys.  Many are very old.  The Forestry Commission have felled a few but have surrounded others with larch and Corsican pine plantations.  The oaks are being suffocated.”   He did observe that both the Forestry Commission and English China Clay were employers in an area with little alternative outside of agriculture but he prophesised that at some point “we will regret what has happened”.

It was a good evening; people liked the pictures and the articulate and animated presenter’s performance but did anything come of it?  Well, perhaps something did as in the audience that evening was a teenager who had gone there only because there was no other entertainment who was particularly impressed.  He remembered the message and is now telling it to  you some 57 years later.

But something else happened.   Given the success of the evening our speaker was invited to repeat the ‘show’ in villages around the Southwest.   The impressive wildlife pictures along with a passionate delivery impressed many.  One such was a gentleman who owned an engineering business supplying and maintaining farm equipment called Watkins and Roseveare.  As such he knew that whilst he was making money by selling Massey Fergusons some of the equipment was being used to remove wildlife habitat such as hedges and copses, supported by ‘Min of Ag and Fish’ grants.  He had himself worked from the Ministry during the war.  He was also interested in the technology that our speaker was using to photograph and project the living images.  A friendship was born.   A few years later when a wood was up for sale near Kingsbridge, our engineer, Ken, called upon our speaker, Hugh for advice.  The result as you will have guessed was the formation of the Woodland Trust in 1972.   We remember Kenneth Watkins as the founder of the Trust,  the man (along with his wife Mary) who put up most of the money but we have overlooked the real inspiration that was supplied by our speaker (who was also a founding Trustee). His name;  H G Hurrell, the real founder.

If you are a speaker, you will be aware that you generally don’t know who is in the audience. Nevertheless, if you succeed in inspiring them who knows what might result.

Gerald Price, Volunteer Speaker

October 2021

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